City official questions vacancies precedent

First Posted: 11/19/2009

The issue of how an upcoming vacancy on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will be filled arose again Thursday night when one official questioned whether a firm precedent has been set for the process.
That vacancy will occur in less than two weeks when Commissioner Deborah Cochran is sworn in as mayor, after defeating Teresa Lewis in the Nov. 3 municipal election.
At the boards previous meeting on Nov. 5, two other commissioners said they favored appointing Lewis who originally was declared the winner of the mayoral race only to have the decision reversed due a vote-tabulation error as Cochrans replacement.
Since then, a debate has swirled around town about whether that should occur, or if an open application process needs to be held for other citizens to seek the position along with Lewis.
Two other board members, including Cochran and Dean Brown, as well as Commissioner-Elect Stephen Yokeley, favor the open process, which supporters say maintains a precedent set the last time such a vacancy occurred. That was the 2008 resignation of Tom Bagnal for health reasons.
However, during another council meeting Thursday night, Commissioner Todd Harris questioned whether such a precedent had indeed been established, while referring to earlier occasions when someone simply was appointed outright. Harris was one of the two commissioners who backed Lewis selection earlier this month.
It warms my heart a little bit to hear so many people say it was a good way to handle it, Harris said of the open procedure employed to choose Bagnals replacement, which drew 12 applicants. Harris explained that this method was his idea.
However, Harris pointed out that when Commissioner Frank Lowry resigned some years ago due to health reasons, he and the other members named Mary Etta Young as Lowrys replacement, which involved no application procedure.
And before that, John Browne, who had served on the board in the past, was selected for a vacancy created by the resignation of Commissioner Johnny Edwards with no other candidates solicited.
There is no set structure that we use in that, Harris said of filling vacancies. While acknowledging that the application process was used for the last one, this method is not always the case, he added.
Lewis, who was among a crowd of citizens who attended Thursday nights meeting, has said she would willingly serve if chosen.
Other Mount Airy officials did not respond to Harris comments Thursday. No timetable has been set for a decision on the matter.

Hearing Set On
Also Thursday night, the city commissioners scheduled a public hearing for their next meeting on Dec. 3 on an incentives package for an unidentified company proposing to expand here. The firm has not been identified publicly, but sources say the project involves a bakery manufacturer and a site at Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park.
That incentives package could total $292,256, according to city documents. It includes a transfer of land held jointly by Mount Airy and Surry County with a value to the city of $230,911. The remainder of the package includes a tax incentive grant amounting to 45 percent of property taxes that would be paid by the company over a five-year period, not to exceed $61,345.
While board members did approve holding the hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, there was little discussion on the actual project, except for Commissioner Jon Cawley questioning the value of the land involved.
Is that the tax value? Cawley asked of the $230,911 figure, inquiring of City Manager Don Brookshire as to whether it reflected an earlier period when land prices were higher.
Brookshire replied that the cost cited is the estimated value that includes improvements to the property. The city manager said he was unsure of the exact pricing process involved, but pointed out that the $230,911 figure is a very important number. He explained it will allow local officials to match a state grant for the economic-development proposal, for which the county also is expected to provide incentives.
The project could affect up to 200 jobs, based on estimates supplied by a source.
Officials have declined to name the industry, which now bears the code name Project Dough, due to sensitive negotiations that are occurring in an effort to achieve a favorable decision by the manufacturer.
Two other matters were approved by the board Thursday night related to Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park.
One involved a board decision to seek certification for two prime sites there of between 30 and 40 acres. That process will cost up to $80,000, to be split equally with Surry County. The certification procedure will involve acquiring such items as engineering studies, soil borings, grading plans and topographical maps to ensure the sites are suitable for tenants.
Local economic and other officials say the effort will allow the tracts to be marketed more effectively through the N.C. Department of Commerce, since industry officials considering building new plants often choose only certified locations.
Also, the city board amended budget documents to reflect the lower cost required to extend water and sewer lines to serve the two prime sites. The project originally was expected to cost up to $900,000, but actually resulted in a low bid from a contractor of $352,365. That figure was due to factors including a tough economy which has led to more competition among construction firms vying for work.
The commissioners had awarded the contract for the job on Nov. 5, but revised budget documents Thursday to reflect a total $400,000 expense, also to be split with the county. That figure provides for possible unforeseen costs related to the work, with any leftover monies to be returned to the municipal water and sewer fund through which the project is being financed.

Annexation Hearing
In another matter, the city board set a public hearing for Dec. 17 concerning a voluntary annexation request involving property in the North Franklin Road-West Virginia Street area which is not contiguous to the present city limits.
A double-wide mobile home park is proposed for a 31.7-acre tract on Strickland Farm Lane by a High Point Firm, Blue Ridge Companies, which constructs and manages multi-family real estate developments among other projects.
If the annexation is approved, the company is proposing 110 lots on the property, which would be added in phases, a Mount Airy planning official has said.
The company has agreed to pay all the expenses associated with providing water and sewer services to the property line.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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